Why some Alaskans 👍🏽, ❤️ and ✊ over new Juneau bathroom signs

Juneau Public replaced bathroom signs like this one at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum on Dec. 23, 2019, earlier in the year at its facilities. They’re in English and Lingít. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A few months ago, Juneau public libraries got new bathroom signs that are in English and Lingít. It’s a small thing, but when the City and Borough of Juneau posted about it last week on social media, it was widely liked and shared.

It’s one more nod to indigenous people and culture in Juneau in a string of similar public gestures, big and small. 

Library Director Robert Barr said the story behind the bathroom signs is short. Someone on his staff recommended it.

“It sounded like a good idea to me, so I told her go ahead and make it happen,” Barr said. “And it did!”

Barr said because the text on the signs was custom, they cost more than $100 each. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department bought some of the new bathroom signs at the same time as the libraries, too.

Carla Casulucan found out about them last week on Facebook. To paraphrase from her online reaction, she “love love LOVES” the new signs, ✊, and “Aatlein Gunalchéesh!” which means thank you very much.

So, why are bathroom signs an object of love and fist pumps?

“Well, I was very happy to see it and very pleased with how far I think just our locality, our city and our school system and even private businesses in general in the local area have started to embrace being more diverse and representative of the local indigenous culture,” Casulucan said. “It’s not something that I grew up seeing a lot of here.”

Casulucan, whose Tlingit name is Kat.Xoon, was born and raised in Juneau. She’s a Gen Xer with family roots in Hoonah. She remembers growing up with Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School as the only school with a Lingít name in town and getting made fun of for her culture. 

“We were, I think, kind of relegated to like, a week long of Indian studies week that was incorporated into the mainstream curriculum,” she said. 

She said her kids and grandkids are growing up in Juneau in a different environment.

“It’s nice to see that there’s something that school-aged kids now can look at and feel a little bit of a sense of belonging and some, you know, a little bit of pride and that their people are being acknowledged and recognized,” she said. 

She said the small gestures and big ones, like renaming Juneau-Douglas High School as Juneau-Douglas High School: Yaadaa.at Kalé earlier this year, are beacons of pride.

There have been a lot of other notable nods around Juneau in the last two years:

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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